The Doodlebug: A Homemade Tractor

Built-from-scratch homemade tractor, or doodlebug, keeps on ticking.

| August 2012

  • Chili Dipper Smoothing Dirt Road
    The Chili Dipper is especially handy at smoothing dirt roads in the spring.
  • Chili Dipper Right Side View
    A special attachment on the “Chili Dipper” makes it possible to move heavy automobile engines into buildings that have low entrance doors.
  • Chili Dipper Leveling Dirt Piles
    Piles of dirt can be leveled with the front blade.
  • Chili Dipper Back Scoop
    The scoop on the back holds about five wheelbarrow loads and can be loaded and unloaded easily.
  • Clell Ballard Builds Log House
    Author Clell Ballard and his then 6-year-old son beginning a log house building project with the Chili Dipper. Clell was able to accurately position heavy logs as his son activated the electric winch motor. The Chili Dipper also came in handy hoisting log rafters up to the roof level.
  • Chili Dipper Power Supply
    The power supply for the rear hoist that consists of a Model A starter motor, Hotpoint washing machine belt, old car transmission and a winch created from an old car steering box.

  • Chili Dipper Smoothing Dirt Road
  • Chili Dipper Right Side View
  • Chili Dipper Leveling Dirt Piles
  • Chili Dipper Back Scoop
  • Clell Ballard Builds Log House
  • Chili Dipper Power Supply

Probably the most common farmer-created implement in the early move from simple horse power to mechanical motive power was the homemade tractor. Dozens of companies produced tractors that were expected to replace the horse on America’s farms. The variety of such offerings was almost mind-boggling, but there was one common denominator: Farmers needed money to buy them. Most farms were small. Although they provided the essentials of life for the farm family, few generated a substantial amount of cash. For a farmer to obtain a new tractor, money had to change hands.

Although it was quite evident that more work could be accomplished with a tractor, the small farmer couldn’t always come up with enough resources to buy one. That problem was addressed in a couple of ways. Some companies provided a cheaper alternative by selling kits used to convert cars and trucks into tractors. The most common conversion involved Model T Fords since they were almost ubiquitous nationwide. In a typical conversion, the vehicle’s wheelbase was shortened, a heavy-duty rear axle was substituted and large, cleated rear wheels were installed. Some method of providing lower gearing was incorporated so the marginally powered engines could actually accomplish farm fieldwork.

The affordable option

Farmers who built their own homemade tractors found an even more economical option. Any old motorized vehicle was a candidate for conversion; any mechanical components available were utilized. Out-of-pocket costs were nil. Since every farmer-created tractor was different, only a few accurate observations apply to all of them.

Heavy-duty rear axles were generally salvaged from trucks. In those days, trucks had axle ratios like 8-10:1 (car ratios were more commonly 4-5:1). Those lower gears were supplemented by using two transmissions. The first transmission could be put in first gear, which meant that first gear in the second transmission was multiplied three or four times. That provided enough power to pull agricultural implements.



Putting that power to the ground was a major problem because car/truck-based tractors lacked adequate weight for good traction. Cleated steel wheels partially made up for that handicap. When the power-to-traction equation was adequate, another problem raised its ugly head. The mechanical components utilized were rarely strong enough for the heavy work asked of them. Burned-out clutches, disintegrated transmissions and broken axles were common.

In spite of the drawbacks of homemade tractors, thousands toiled successfully on the farms of America and helped make horse-powered agriculture a thing of the past. Collectively they have been given the title “doodlebug,” and enthusiast organizations exist in some areas.

jrufus2011
11/13/2017 7:08:03 PM

i have a 1932 ford doodlebug flathead v8 runs and drives grate id like to sale 3500 0b0 frankfort ky 502 319 4486